Attendance Policy: Is it Fair?

image00 U-32 senior Felicia Ayer was confused about the letter that she got in the mail from the school. “I got a letter in the mail saying that if I missed one more English class there would be a chance that I wouldn’t be able to graduate.” Felicia had missed several days in her English class, which is required for graduation; the letter explained that if she missed more than 10 days it would be up to her teacher to decide if she earns credit, according to U-32’s attendance policy.

Sophomore Gabriella Calderon received a letter earlier in the school year to inform her that she had “…missed five days of school and if I missed more than ten they would have to have an intervention.” Gabi wondered why she got the letter, but other students did not. She said after she received the letter her friend counted how many days she had missed. She had found that she had been absent more than five days, but did not receive a letter.

As of Friday, January 8th, 149 students in grades 7-12 have missed 5-9 days of school, and 23 students have missed ten to fourteen full days of school. There have also been 24 students so far this year who have missed fifteen or more days– ranging from 15 days to, in a few extreme cases, more than 40 full days.

According to the school’s policy, “absences in Grades 9-12 apply both to the school day and to individual classes. Students who have missed five classes of one subject will receive a warning letter. Missing ten classes of one subject will trigger a letter and an evaluation of the cause of the absences. Students who have ten unexcused class absences in a subject may be dropped from a class.”

U-32 has an attendance policy in accordance with Vermont law. It is important to U-32, the district and the state that students attend school consistently. The policy states that “Students are responsible for regular attendance at school every day unless sick, participating in school-authorized activities outside of school, or otherwise excused.”

As stated in the school’s attendance policy if a student accumulates more than fifteen absences in one year Vermont state law requires schools to have a procedure in place to evaluate the absences for truancy, or “staying away from school without good reason.” Accumulating fifteen absences doesn’t mean you are going to be found truant, though, “(A) number of factors will be considered when evaluating absences.”

When a student has missed more than fifteen days their parents or guardians will be asked to meet with school officials to discuss a plan for better attendance and to make a plan to make up the missed work.

Erik Bennett explained that most of the time when students miss an extensive amount of school it is because of “health issues, or home issues.”  He continued to say, “there’s stuff we can kind of work around, but unless we know that and are working with the family it kind of falls through the cracks.”

The attendance may seem very clear, but the way it actually works within the school is forever changing and may be less clear than the official policy sounds.

Erik Bennett, Dean of Students. explained that whether or not the class is dropped depends on the individual situation. “It has been left in the teacher’s hands. If you have missed more than ten days and they’re all cuts and you’re failing, we can pull you from that class with a ‘withdraw fail.’ If you’ve missed ten days and it has been appointments and stuff, and you’re still passing the class and doing well then teachers now have the leeway to keep you in there and get you the credit whereas before you would have to sit before the committee and make a case and they would decide.”

The policy is different for every student depending on the individual case, but is this fair? Two students could have the same grade in their classes, and missed the same amount of classes, but depending on the teacher one could be dropped from a class where the other student is allowed to stay in.

In the previous policy, there was a committee that made the decision on whether or not a student will lose credit, or earn credit. Now it is up to the individual teacher to make the decision based on their own judgment. With the committee, there was one authority defining the policy and making the overall judgement for every student, now the policy is decentralized, so there is no assurance of consistency between each case.

What do teachers think about the change in policy? Ben Heintz worries about fairness. “It’s troubling to think that two students in similar situations might be treated differently, and one might lose credit while the other earns credit just based on the personal decision of the teacher.” He continued to say, “(I)t would be good to know that there was one authority overseeing a consistent application of the policy.”

There is no way to separate the students who have failed a class because they missed too many classes, so they were dropped, or if the student stayed in the class, but still failed because they were never there. So there are no actual numbers in the school records to say how many people have been kicked out of a class because they missed so many classes. Teachers were asked if they had ever had to decide whether or not a student got credit in their class based on how many classes they had missed. One teacher said that he has been asked his opinion on whether or not the student remains in the class based on their work ethic, and how much they have accomplished in the class, but it was not his final decision. Most teachers were unaware of this policy and believed it was not their decision to make.

Should there be a specific number of absences allowed that is the same for every student before they are dropped from the class?

4 thoughts on “Attendance Policy: Is it Fair?”

  1. How does one indent? It deletes double spacing between paragraphs and extra spaces before paragraphs! This was not optimized for longer comments. Do I need to put a placeholder symbol to separate paragraphs?
    Summer is an inefficient waste of time that only existed in the first place to benefit the rich kids. Summer vacation exists because rich parents pulled their kids out of school on the hot days of the year because AC didn’t exist back in the day. People blame farmers, but all the planing is done in the spring and harvesting in the fall. There is no spring or fall vacation for the farming kids. We still have summer vacation out of tradition.
    Over the summer break, kids on reduced price/free lunch programs are unable to get their lunches, the average student looses about a month of instruction, and parents need to have a plan to take care of younger kids to continue working at their jobs. The notion of a stay at home mom doesn’t work with the cost of kids these days. Not every kid can afford the traditional cross country trip, summer camp, or going to the mall every day. For me, summer is just a three month waste of time. I want to be productive, but no employer has really looked at my resume and I don’t want to waste my whole day watching the same shows on netflix over and over again.
    What I would propose is a system where we consolidate all of the mid year breaks (the disproportionately christian “holiday” break, mid winter break, and spring break) and divide the long summer break into a three smaller breaks. There would be a three week break between quarters opposed to a three month productivity sink between years. Three weeks is enough to visit relatives, while not long enough to forget everything. Perhaps, we could even have a system where there students get a week off mid quarter, then two weeks off between to further reduce the amount of material that is lost, though I would still prefer the three week breaks for a few reasons stated below. On top of that (also explained below), I would allow for local districts to adjust when their breaks are taken to make accommodations for regional customs. Besides, the law says 175 days of instruction, not 175 days between September and June.
    Having these breaks seasonally may help stimulate the local economy as well. Let’s face it, the majority of our state’s economy is based on tourism. We could claim that we are the maple syrup capital of the country, most families across the country (mine included) buy the synthetic stuff as real maple syrup is too expensive. The majority of our state’s economy comes from skiing, snowboarding and leaf peeping. Since winter here feels like it is six months long, we could move the winter and spring break closer together, allowing for richer students to spend their money skiing, and perhaps poorer students could get temp jobs helping out ski resorts. Having a three week chunk of time would allow plenty of time for richer students to get in a lot of skiing and allow for a decent pay for temp workers. If a ski rush only lasts, a week, they probably would be laid off after that week, but if it lasted three, then they would make three weeks worth of money without needing to reapply.
    Mean while, in other parts of the country, local districts could be adjust their breaks to fit into their customs. A region with more fundamentally christian customs could time their breaks around major holidays like Easter and Christmas. More Atheist parts of the country could instead allow breaks for local festivals or for just plain time off, and would have no need to take Easter off. A more Jewish community could have days off for Hanuka and a more Muslim district could even have their scheduled revolve around their calendar, giving their time off during Ramadan, as teenagers wouldn’t focus without food in their systems and would give plenty of time for volunteer work.
    Religion doesn’t have to be the only reason for days off in this system. In more rural districts where many students may work on farms the schedule would be adjusted to allow breaks for the harvesting and planting of crops If needed, the two planting and harvesting breaks could last an additional week, while the winter and summer breaks each would loose a week. Cities like Chicago and Detroit with high crime rates and gang activities should have 12 one week breaks, with optional but free of cost programs where students could take a week long course on first aid, programming, or other topics to keep them from having a three month time span to be recruited by gangs and giving them the option to discover ways to live without resorting to crime. I would also offer these classes during the breaks for other school systems, just as something to do for those who couldn’t travel or afford to do anything else.
    Religion is also the reason that I would implement a 15 day sick/emergency/religion pool. Why is it that Jewish kids have to go to school during their week long holiday, but Christians get two weeks off for their holiday that lasts only a single day. Why do we take days off from school for the exact day that Easter is on, giving time off while the holiday is on a Sunday, while we move MLK’s birthday to whenever it is convenient to us? Why do we complain about Columbus day being illegitimate, while it is more legitimate than Christmas in a supposedly secular nation? That is why I would add religion as a valid excuse for absence. While school districts should create a schedule that works for the majority, the 15 day pool should also allow for the minorities to have a working schedule as well.

  2. One thing to keep in mind; these are ideas that I am throwing onto a computer keyboard at 10:00 in the evening. Not all ideas are perfect on inception, and a better vacation system won’t arise without a dialogue. I’ll try to explain my reasoning, but keep in mind I am no expert on the subject and this plan will only improve if criticized.
    Personally, I would not only revamp how vacation days worked for students, but how school vacations in general are dealt with on both a government and school basis as well. This would include the ability for responsible students to amass more free time, irresponsible students to be penalized by having days from their “frivolous” taken, and work to create a better learning environment for the student body, and a revamped vacation schedule which will reallocate the unnecessary summer time we get to serve more regional purposes on a district by district basis.
    So the reason I came up with the two pools of off days was because most students take days off for both of the aforementioned reasons. I personally have taken days off because I just didn’t want to do to school that day, or I was completely wiped from all of the schooling. I also have taken advantage of the sick day system, and use them liberally to quarantine infections, which would hopefully prevent my peers needing to use theirs.
    We all realistically will have those days that you really don’t want to go to school, so I created the first pool of “guilt free days”(GFDs) or days where you could just take off without judgement, or having to worry about judgement. Work would still need to be made up, which would counter balance the desire to use it on test days. I think in high school, we all have reached the point where missing a day is more incontinent than it’s worth. Where you’d have so much work to make up that the free time alone with Netflix wasn’t worth it. This will insensitive the usage of these days on the days where there is a lighter work load, and perhaps the student doesn’t feel like it wasn’t too necessary to even go to school.
    To balance the GFDs further, we could have them be a sort of a “good” that could be obtained with good grades, or taken away as a punishment along side LOFT. On the Extra Credits youtube page, there is a playlist about how game designers would improve our educational system One of the points mentioned is the idea of more rewards for better grades, having grades being points that one would build up instead of starting at an A and falling further away. Grade points could be used for rewards, and we could offer time off as one of these rewards. As an example, if from the previous semester, a student increases their GPA for the quarter 0.5 or higher, we could offer an extra GFD. If a student has a 4.0 GPA, we could potentially offer a roll over system, where unused GFD’s are added to the next year’s count. While on the other hand, every four LOFTs could result in the additional loss of a GFD. The loss of GFD could become a more intermediate punishment between LOFT and suspension.
    Then there is the second pool, the “sick days”. The reason I would increase the cap from 10 to 15 is for a few reasons. The first of which has to do with stopping the spread of disease. With only ten days total to be divided among both mental health days and sick days, a student may feel like they must budget their days. Last year, I had to take a two week absence for a family emergency, and I had no sick days left over. While I still took days of for extreme sickness, found my self feeling forced to go to school on days where I didn’t feel well enough to focus and I was probably leaving germs everywhere. The 15 day dedicated sick day cap would hopefully allow for students to feel more free to take extra days off to help reduce the spread of pathogens and have students make up work when they can focus, rather than cram when they can’t. These would also be more flexible than the GDFs, so we don’t punish people who need to go across the country for a funeral (yeah, thanks for that U-32).
    Now I have mentioned other things, like how the 15 day gap would also be used for religious ceremonies, and the redistribution of vacation time to a year round system, instead of our current 9 months on, 3 months off system. I know I left some major gaps in my reasoning in this comment as well, so I’ll explain my ideas tomorrow, as I really need some sleep right now.
    Yes, I know that no one reads the comments, but I still like having some sort of soap box. If you have a comment system, don’t be offended by its use.

  3. Wait… We have a dean of students? Man, I don’t know how this stuff works yet.

    Kidding aside, I personally feel that we could a revamp for absence system. Personally, I would give students two pools of off days. I would have a five day pool for vacations, mental health days, and other frivolous uses, while adding an additional 15 day pool for sick days , observation of religious events (explained below) and other emergency uses. This would give students a 20 day annual budget before the warning letter. Of course I would adjust this to a more flexible system based upon grades, a students shown responsibility, and annual roll over days.

    More would be explained in the next comment, but here’s the TL;DR version; the school should allow for a more flexible system that is more lenient for emergencies, while giving students a small bit of “vacation”, similar to what many workplaces offer.

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